"He was such an amazing man. I was absolutely a daddy's girl. I just adored my dad,” shares Laurie Coombs with a smile on her face. Suddenly, as she describes what happened to her family in August of 2000, the look in her eyes changes. "We had planned to leave the next morning and all of a sudden I just got this feeling. All that I knew is that I needed to be home." When she arrived, she learned her father had been killed in his Carson City home. “It didn't make any sense to me."
Her beloved dad, Rick Albrecht was an avid hunter, fisherman and known for his big bear hugs. Laurie says the contractor was loved by all who knew him. However, he developed a friendship with a woman who was going through a divorce and investigators says her estrange husband considered him a threat. Shortly after violating a protective order, Anthony Echols went to Rick's house and fatally shot him. "Evil really became real to me for the first time," says Laurie. In 2003, Anthony was convicted of murder. "Any time I would ever see his mugshot or picture in the newspaper even, it would send chills down my spine." Although sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison without the possibility of parole, it did not ease the pain for Laurie. "I felt like he stole something from me and not just me, but my entire family."
Fifteen years later, Laurie is now married to her longtime love, Travis. Together they are sowing seeds into their daughters' lives; two beautiful girls who are blossoming before their eyes. We met them as they gardened in the backyard of their Reno home. "Here you go. These are sweet peas,” Laurie explains to her girls, who are planting a plush vegetable garden. Lettuce, tomatoes and sweet peas aren't the only thing growing at their home; Laurie continues to bloom, too. However, early on in her healing, she battled anger, irritability, anxiety and depression. "So I prayed to God. I felt God tell me that I needed to forgive."
Laurie initially wanted to meet Anthony face-to-face, but the Northern Nevada Correctional Center denied her request. So she decided to write him a letter instead and was surprised when she received a letter back. "I just looked at it and honestly, I didn't even want to touch it. This was something he had touched. These were his thoughts on the paper. Just the thought of it was just terrible; absolutely terrible." But she wanted answers. It read, "Dear Laurie. Well, I guess this is the letter you've been waiting a year for. I wish we could do this face to face." Through their written correspondence, Laurie asked many questions and Anthony was willing to answer them. It was uncomfortable, but cordial at first. "But then it got extremely heated,” says Laurie. Anthony echoed her sentiments in our phone interview. "For a while there, it got real intense.”
One letter, in particular, jarred the young mother. "I received this one letter where he was blame-shifting saying this happened and this happened and it's not my fault.” Anthony's excuses infuriated Laurie. At first she wanted to rebuke what he had to say, but instead spent time contemplating her response. She went up to Lake Tahoe and prayed. “And again I felt called to forgive. I revised my letter and I told him we may never see eye-to-eye, but I want you to know I forgive you." That, Laurie says, is when she noticed a rapid transformation.
A following letter from Anthony read, "This is the truth. I did this. This is no accident and it's something I'm very sorry for." He now shares with fellow inmates how Laurie's forgiveness changed his life. "It was like a giant rock was lifted off my back." He added in another letter, their testimony is resonating behind bars. Anthony says men who were plotting to seek revenge after being released are now seeking forgiveness. Laurie responded, "While I would never have hoped for, wanted, wished for anything of this (all that happened between you and my dad), I do see God using it for good. Not just in our lives, but in the lives around us." She adds, "Just because he's in prison does not mean he has wasted his life." Two people worlds apart, but brought together by a heinous crime on a path of pain, redemption and renewed hope; on a journey of forgiveness.
Anthony is not seeking an appeal and plans to spend the rest of his life in prison. With his permission, Laurie included dozens of their letters in a book that will be released June 27th. It's called: Letters From My Father's Murderer: A Journey of Forgiveness. The powerful story will be available online, at His Word bookstores in Reno and Sparks and other book retailers. For a full list, log into: http://lauriecoombs.org/.